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This lawmaker thinks climate deniers are a persecuted class in America

A rally against Smithsonian board member and climate denier David Koch in Washington D.C. in June of 2015.

Well, this is a new one: A state lawmaker in Maine wants you to believe that climate change deniers deserve protection under anti-discrimination laws.

Maine Republican Rep. Larry Lockman says climate deniers are in danger of seeing their free speech threatened and need legal protections from anti-discrimination laws. Yes, the same laws that protect the rights of racial and religious minorities as well as those discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Lockman, along with the cosponsors of his new bill, are seeking to add climate deniers to the list of protected people under state anti-discrimination laws.

In other words, they’re saying that climate deniers are just as discriminated against as the LGBTQ community is in the state, which is a, um, bold claim to make.

Specifically, the bill would restrict the attorney general’s ability to investigate people based on their political speech, and bar the state from discriminating against people based on their "climate change policy preferences" when making purchase decisions for goods or services, or in the doling out of grant money.

According to the bill’s backers, climate deniers are being persecuted for their views, and are therefore in need of special protections under the law. That said, they give no evidence of persecution to support their claims in the bill.

However, the fact is that climate change is real, and is mainly caused by our burning of fossil fuels for energy and chopping down forests for wood, palm oil and other products. Last year was the hottest year on record worldwide, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere today is the highest in all of human history.

Lockman’s views on human-caused climate change are in line with many cabinet and White House officials, including EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

Last week, Pruitt told CNBC carbon dioxide is not a main cause of global warming, which goes against findings on his own agency’s website.

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," Pruitt said.

Similarly, Lockman told the Associated Press that it’s an open question whether or not human emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide or methane, is the main cause of global warming.

"We need to have a vigorous public debate on that question," he said.

In reality, more than a century of climate research has firmly linked the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas to increasing global temperatures and harmful impacts such as sea level rise and more severe and longer-lasting heatwaves.

Dylan Voorhees, the climate and clean energy project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the bill would not make a huge impact compared to existing laws protecting free speech. However, it’s important for its symbolism, he said.

“I think the bill is intended to make a statement more than anything else and that statement we read as a defense of climate denialism," he said.

According to the AP, Lockman is no stranger to controversy, having once dressed as a vampire outside a federal building to protest the Internal Revenue Service.

The bill references the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court Case in asserting an unabridged right to free speech, including that of people who disagree with consensus viewpoints.

The bill could also be seen as an attempt to prevent the Maine attorney general from launching or joining investigations into a person or company because of their "protected political speech."

The bill states: "It also prohibits the Attorney General from using the Attorney General’s prosecutorial power to favor or disfavor protected political speech."

Currently, the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York are investigating Exxon Mobil for failing to disclose the risks of climate change to their investors despite having researched the science of climate change since the 1970s.

If it were to pass the state legislature, which is considered unlikely, the new bill might prevent Maine from joining such an investigation in the future, since it could fall under the purview of Exxon’s protected climate policy preferences and freedom of speech as a corporation.

Voorhees said the proposed legislation may be part of a new surge of climate denialism during the Trump administration, given the support for such views at the highest levels of government.

“I’m seeing a disturbing trend and I think this bill is part of that, to provide cover for climate denialism in a sort of general way,” he said.